I hate the title of this post, and I’m the one who wrote it.
It genuinely depresses me to think that anybody out there might think that Taylor is capable of anything less than perfection, let alone myself, and yet somehow, I find myself writing this; my thoughts on Taylor Swift’s newest album, 1989.
I’m a MASSIVE fan of Taylor Swift fan, and have been for quite a few years. Here’s me doing my best Tay Swift impression right before I went to her concert earlier this year.
Clearly I am the one on the right.
I was VERY excited. That was for the Red tour, and Red is one of my all-time favourite albums. I have been playing it pretty much nonstop for the last 2 years, and I was beyond thrilled at the beginning of August when Taylor announced that she was releasing a new album. The first track, Shake It Off, was INCREDIBLE; I loved it on first listen, and I kind of metaphorically let out a breath I hadn’t realised I was holding. It was ok, she hadn’t messed up. Not that I thought she would, not really, but Red was just SO good that I wasn’t sure she could top it. I downloaded Shake it Off and played it on repeat for a few weeks, until out of the blue Taylor released a new song, Out of the Woods.
Then I started to get nervous.
It was literally the first time I had listened to a Taylor song and not loved it straight away. It was…ok. I wasn’t a big fan of the overly repetitive chorus and the weird electric beats. After a few listens I got to liking it, but the thread of unease had settled in and it wasn’t going away.
A week or so later, I was on holiday when I heard someone mention a new Taylor song was out, so I got hold of some wifi and listened to it on You Tube. It was called ‘Welcome to New York’, and I can very clearly remember the first time I heard it. My boyfriend was half asleep next to me, and I was sat up in bed, listening to it on my ipad and feeling my stomach give way. I didn’t like it. I REALLY didn’t like it. I listened to it again, by which point boyfriend had dragged himself from his midday siesta and listened in. We sat in silence as the song finished, and then I looked at him and said ‘I’m worried.”
Worried was an understatement. Internally, ever so slightly, I was freaking out. I know it may seem dramatic, but I had been so excited for that album, and having heard 3 of the songs, I was not so fond of two of them. I didn’t like those odds. I put it out of my head, played ‘Shake it Off’ again for reassurance, pre-ordered the extended edition and waited for the album to come out, fingers crossed.
When the big day came, I was too scared to listen to it. Again, I’m not trying to sound dramatic, I just really couldn’t. To put this in perspective, when I received ‘Red’ back in 2012, I ripped it straight onto my iphone, sat and listened to it on my laptop until I had heard it all the way through twice, then took it out with me shopping, playing it over my headphones. I couldn’t stop. I loved it straight away, just like I knew I would.
1989 gave me a horrid sense of foreboding. I carried it around for a day and a half before I finally listened, and…I liked it.
I still like it.
It’s been out a while now, and that’s all I can say for certain. I like it. It’s good. If pushed, I would say it’s great. Technically it’s probably one of her best, and I imagine most people will love it. For me, though, I just feel like something’s missing, and I’m not even sure if I can put my finger on it. It feels kind of…empty. Every time I listen to it I enjoy it, but afterwards I’m in no rush to listen again.
I’ve been trying to figure out what the issue is, and I think to be honest it’s a combination of a few things. The ‘new sound’ for one; I don’t like 80’s music. I also think that lyrically, she’s digressed. Her songs are less meaningful now than they were five years ago, like she’s maturing in reverse. I don’t like it. I also think there’s a lot of mismatch; songs that are stronger musically have weak lyrics, and vice versa. On top of that, I can’t stop comparing it to Red. Red was a mini masterpiece. Even the best songs on this album aren’t as good as the less good songs on Red, and I think that is where the biggest issue lies.
It’s not all bad. There are things I like about all the songs, but equally there are things I don’t like about a lot of them. Here’s a quick track by track run-through.
Welcome to New York: I think my initial thoughts on this song have been well documented already. The first time I heard it, it broke my heart. Over produced and electronic. Annoying auto-tuned voice. SYNTHESISERS for crying out loud. Synthesisers. Taylor swift with a synthesiser is a world I have never wanted to live in. I don’t mind it now, but I still think it just sounds like a Katy Perry song. Anyone could release this song. Rebecca Black could release this song; is that really the direction Taylor wanted to go?
It’s immature and empty. It makes New York sound fake and unappealing, like it’s full of 20 something hipsters who are trying to “find themselves”. The heavy, repetitive beat would make it a great running song, but again, is that really something I wanted from Taylor? No it isn’t. I rely on Taylor for emotionally honest songs with great melodies, not repetitive, meaningless words laid over a thumping baseline. Her comparison of New York to a relationship especially grates at me; if she really thinks that true love has to drive you crazy, she hasn’t found it yet. But I guess we knew that already.
Blank Space: Everyone seems to be going nuts for this song; Buzzfeed even wrote an article about how it’s her best song ever (here). The lyrics, I’ll admit, are great. Taylor makes fun of her image as a crazy man eater, and the results are fantastic. There are so many lyrical gems in here that I’d struggle to narrow down the best ones. No arguments from me that this is one of the wittiest songs Taylor has written; my issue comes from the tune. It’s not catchy, there’s no hook. It’s forgettable. I feel like she’s let the song down by using a bland tune; this could have been a Trouble style legend if she had come up with a fantastic melody, but I really don’t think she has. It’s not an obvious single, because it’s not an obviously fantastic song. Clever, yes, but it feels like it should have been a B side to another awesome Taylor track, as opposed to the newest single.
Style: I love the tune on this one. It’s super slick and stylish, very 80’s and very cool. I’m not such a fan of the lyrics, unfortunately. It’s quite repetitive, with no clever imagery, and an unfortunate lack of imagination. I feel like she let the tune down. Taylor is a master at telling stories, painting pictures in your head, and yet with this one she doesn’t manage it. It falls short of greatness, and it fails on the promise of the opening notes.
Out of the Woods: Another song I didn’t like on first hearing, but I like it more now. The thundering, base heavy beat is cool, and the chorus is fun to sing. It’s just a bit empty. A recurring theme, unfortunately.
All You Had to do Was Stay: this is one of my favourites. I like the clever wording of the chorus and the upbeat, peppy tune. I also like the fact that the bright and bubbly melody juxtaposes the somewhat dark and accusatory lyrics. It’s a pretty awesome anthem for anyone who is over a nasty ex and can’t help but gloat when they come crawling back. The entire theme of this song is pretty much ‘Oh, so you want me now, do you? Well tough luck bitch, that ship has sailed.’ Which, as I said, when thrown against the super fun music, is an interesting mix, and not easy to pull off. Kudos, Taylor.
Shake it Off: Sorry to fall prey to a very cliché phrase, but THIS is a TUNE. Still the best on the album, still the only song that could really be a single. Great lyrics, great tune, great video, great great great. I can’t fault it. Classic Swift. It’s the only natural successor to Red on this album, and the closest thing to the next ‘I Knew You Were Trouble.’ It was also a bit of an anthem for me at the time it was released; ‘haters gonna hate, fakers gonna fake’. Yes they certainly are, and it’s not my problem.
I Wish You Would: I love the fast music behind this song, but again I’m not a fan of the lyrics. It’s a made up story of a girl/guy who are broken up and wishing they could get back together, and the fact that it isn’t based on Taylor’s life shows. Empty, yet again. It’s also one in which Taylor had no input in writing the tune, and it shows; it really, really doesn’t sound like her.
Bad Blood: famously written about Katy Perry, this is a great anthem about a bad friend. The cheerleader chant/beat heavy chorus is pretty cool, but more early Avril than current Taylor. The verses are on point though, and she totally nails that feeling of when a ‘good friend’ proves to be anything but; “now we got problems, and I don’t think we can solve them.” “Did you think we’d be fine? Still got scars on my back from your knife.” I really, really feel this one. Taylor is best when she writes honestly, and this is one of the most honest songs on here. Great track, but as I said, sounds like Avril released it 15 years ago, and I feel like Taylor should be beyond that by now.
Wildest Dreams: Taylor is channelling Lana Del Ray haaaaaard on this one. Floaty and pretty, I really like the delivery, but I find some of the lyrics a bit silly. The confession that she goes into a relationship knowing it will end seems a bit immature and stupid. Surely that’s like going into a restaurant and ordering food you don’t like? As a result, I feel myself rolling my eyes a little here. I preferred Taylor when she genuinely believed each guy was the one; even if she was naïve, at least then you could take her feelings more seriously. The only way she could really get away with this one is if she was more of a ‘try anything once’ heartless type, like Jessa on Girls. If she was just going out with this guy for the sake of it, no strings, no feelings, maybe you could let it go. But that’s not it at all. One the one hand she’s like ‘we may as well go for it, even though we know it will end’ and on the other side she’s going ‘please remember me when it’s over’ and hoping that, when he leaves her, memories of her will haunt him. As a result, she sounds like a girl who just wants guys to like her, just for the sake of it. I read a great quote once, can’t remember who it was by: “A girl wants to be loved by every man. A woman wants to be loved by just one.” That’s so, so true, and for me sums up this song, making it hard to take seriously. I like the ethereal sound, though.
How You Get the Girl: this one sounds like it could have been on ‘Speak Now.’ I like the poppy tune, the fun chorus, the simple lyrics. My issue is that, as it’s about another ‘faceless’ couple, just like “I Wish You Would”, it’s once again hard to get behind it. As I said, I like Taylor best when she speaks from the heart, and describing other people’s made up lives doesn’t do it for me. Fun, though.
This Love: LOVE this song. It reminds me of ‘Sad Beautiful Tragic’ from Red, another one I loved. It’s really, really gorgeous, one of the ‘softer’ songs that I was waiting for. I also love her voice on this. Even though the story of a love you’ve let go coming back to you is one I can’t relate to, I love the way it’s told; finally, she’s telling her stories in the same way she used to. Can’t fault it.
I Know Places: Another song I loved, and on first listen. The fox and hunters imagery is awesome, and I love the dark, eerie notes. I love the fact that you can tell it’s really personal; Taylor is always at her best writing the truth. I also love the bridge and the chorus. I basically just love it all. Massive win.
Clean: Another great one to round of the album, written with Imogen Heap, one of my favourite singers. I love the addiction imagery and the rising chorus, but I also think it’s lacking that big ‘moment’ that takes a song from good to great. Pretty, though.
Wonderland: This is track one of three extras that you get when you buy the extended album, and I love it. It’s an Alice in Wonderland inspired song, and I love all the imagery; “Cheshire cat smile”, “curious minds”, “we found wonderland, you and I got lost in it.” There’s a great bit at the end where she sings “we both went mad.” She sings it in the coolest way, with a heavy resounding back base and an echo, with a pause after it to really let it sink in. I’m not giving these songs marks out of ten, but if I were, the delivery of that one word would make up half the score on this tune. Great touch, great tune.
You Are in Love: one of the most lyrically advanced songs Taylor has ever written. Thank GOD. It really is lovely. Beautiful floaty tune, as with Clean and This Love, but the lyrics pull it up above them. There’s a great moment where she talks about him waking in the night, with a strange look on his face, and saying “you’re my best friend.” That gave me shivers, since that exact thing happened to me with my boyfriend. “you can hear it in the silence, you can feel it on the way home, you can see it with the lights out.” I love this so much, especially since I have often been walking drunkenly home in the dark, hand in hand with my boyfriend, and had that burst of very pure, blinding love. Once again, she finds the words where nobody else can. Which takes me to another great line: “you understand now….why I’ve spent my whole life trying to put it into words”. I love the idea that she’s constantly striving to describe this incredible, inspirational, overwhelming, indescribable thing. Taylor, you are so great at writing about love, never stop.
New Romantics: Following on from an incredibly mature description of love, she finishes on a song that actually makes me quite sad. It’s a cool tune, let’s start with that. The beat is fun and it’s very poppy. What’s sad about this song is her depiction of the specific type of people she’s singing about. We all know them; people who claim to be happy and loving life and partying like that’s all they care about when actually they are pretty unhappy. This song is a natural successor to Red’s “22”; those people who were happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time, hoping to dance their troubles away, are still trying desperately to do it a few years later. According to this song, they are young, bored, manipulative. They struggle to finish each day, and then come alive at night, like life is only worth it if you are out partying. She makes them sound like a bunch of hollow, empty headed, shallow idiots, out partying, screaming ‘the best people in life are free.’ This is such a sad depiction that I want to give anyone she’s describing here a hug. They all sound delusional, living like teenagers while admitting “we need love.” I do admit to liking Taylor’s message here, the steadfast declaration; “it’s ok, we’re fine, we’re having a GREAT time, we’re PARTYING and DRINKING and GOING MAD.” Meanwhile, there are sly references that of course they aren’t happy, they’re lost, but they can’t bear to have anybody think that they’re anything other than totally awesome. The problem is, we can all see though it, which makes the act even sadder. It’s such a sad message overlaid over such a fun song, and the main reason I find it sad to listen to it is because I know people like this, and I wish so much that they would stop pretending to be happy and actually BE happy.
I actually think that the final three songs have a lot more to offer than a lot of the others on the album. The last 2 in particular are what I was hoping for; mature lyrics. But those songs that do manage it are struggling to be seen through a cloud of overproduced, generic pop. As I said before, my issue lies with the fact that anyone could have released a lot of these. Miley, Katy, Kesha. I like these artists, but they aren’t Taylor. Taylor had something special, and I’m worried she’s losing it. I’m longing for the days of All Too Well, Everything Has Changed, Begin Again, Holy Ground, State of Grace; awesome, unquestionably brilliant tunes, the likes of which 1989 just doesn’t have. I’m thinking she should step back from all the writers and try and write on her own for a while, as that’s when she really seems to shine.
I’m aware that I’m a lot older than most of her target audience, and I wonder if that’s the problem, but it does mean that I’m able to listen with some perspective. Where the younger ‘swifties’ will declare every song she releases a masterpiece and relentlessly troll anyone who declares otherwise, I can concede when she missteps. At least, if I think she has. And I really do think she has. I can’t help but feel like she’s limited herself. I also wonder if the only reason I like it at all is because I’ve had to lower my expectations. The first time I heard New York and Out of the Woods, I didn’t like them. no question. But they gave me an idea of what to expect, and as a result I moved my goalposts closer, made it easier for Taylor to score a winner.
I feel kinda bad about how I’ve been laying into this album. To be clear: I like it. It’s fine. It’s good. But after a month or so of plays, it’s back in the case, and Red is back in my car.
Regression isn’t a good thing, I know that. I just wish Taylor did.